It was with mixed feelings that I booked my tickets to Marseille and to Millesime Bio this year. I was concerned – both about the big wine fairs recent and unpredicted move from Montpellier and with confronting memories of a love lost many years before. One with strong memories and emotional ties to Marseilles.
The city still has a reputation for organized crime, corruption, shanty towns, illegal immigration and just generally being a dirty, dangerous place to be. Earlier visits have more than confirmed this, or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve managed to spend a night sleeping outside of the Saint-Charles train station, been pulled over by the police after speeding through Vieux Port on a vespa at four a.m. with a severely drunk driver, visited several illegal and/or strip clubs and just generally tested the limits of what it is wise for a twenty something naive Scandinavian to do on her own in a big new city.
But what met me this time was nothing like the grime, grit and suspicious looks that caused me to stay alert on previous visits. Marseilles is still a place of danger and despair for many of its inhabitants, but the image shown to us tourists is now rather one of delightful, dizzying and slightly exotic chaos.
My first evening was spent walking the expanse of the inner city, climbing the hills of Victor, exploring St. Julien’s colorful corners and examining the evening market and exotic food stores of Belsunce. Without actively trying to find a good meal my chance gourmand encounters soon made one thing clear: Food-wise Marseilles is another world than Montpellier, where finding something decent to eat is like finding a needle in a haystack.
Some corners sparked memories that had been laid to rest for a very good reason, but if one must be bittersweet why not be so against such a magnificent backdrop?
The following morning I set out for Millesime Bio. The wine fair was to take place in the Parc Chanot Marseille close to the Olympique de Marseilles football arena. Reaching the fair by public transportation was quick and easy, but instead I opted for a long walk through the antique streets of Castellane and the hubbub of Rouet, adding a few new areas to my local knowledge.
There had been some complaints about long security lines, but by the time I got there the lines had dissipated and the road lay clear to what proved to be a much improved venue. All the exhibitioners were fit into a single hall this year, and although the wineries are stilled lined up in a most haphazard way – making zigzagging back and forth between stands a must instead of a choice – tasting was quick and effective.
I had a lot less time this year compared to the past two and must have missed a fair share of good producers, but some both old and some new acquaintances that I did try deserve a short mention.
Tasting Jurtschitsch was a new experience. Hailing from Langenlois in Austria, their wines were clear and precise with especially the 2015 Lamm Erste Lage – made from 60 year old vines – showing well with its sleek yet serious body and elegant aromas. Apparently it is the oldest still active winery in the area, dating back to the 16th century.
I’ve had the opportunity to taste a few Majorcan wines the past year, but never actually met and spoken to a wine maker from the island before now.
Apparently less than 2000 hectares of vine are cultivated on Majorca. Traditionally the wines were a blend of many different grapes, but after the tourists started flowing in during the 1960’s more international grapes were planted and monocepage became increasingly popular.
Can Majoral themselves have been certified organic since 1979, second in Spain – according to themselves – only to cava producer Albet i Noya. Their total area under vine covers only a bit more than 17 hectares, but is filled with a rich variety of grapes like Premsal, Callet, Giró Blanc and Gorgouassa, a few of which have been near extinction the past few decades.
While the wines varied in quality and a few of the reds were quite over-oaked labels like the Butibalausi 2016, Sanroig 2012 and the Turgent 2012 are definitely worth getting acquainted with.
The man – or rather heart – behind Cascina Corte is always a pleasure to meet. Sandro Barosi has been deeply and emphatically involved in the slow food movement for many years and only recently (well, depends on your viewpoint, they purchased the estate in 2001) started making wine.
The estate of Cascina Corte (which is also an agriturismo) is settled amongst softly rolling hills in Dogliani, Piemonte. With a passion for cherry trees Sandro has made sure that over 20 different species spread out over the vineyards as well as a myriad of different wildflowers. The cellar holds mostly old, big tonneau with a recent addition of amphora and his children are set to work during the winter season hand coloring the labels for his magnums. But – I digress.
The line-up at Millesime Bio included wines from 2013, 2014 and 2015, made from Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo grapes. Any broader conclusions about vintages were thus rendered redundant, but if any conclusions can be drawn I would say that the 2014 vintage stood out, especially the 2014 Barbera. Complimenti also for the 2015 Dolcetto Amphora. Extremely young, but different and quite promising.
I Clivi is another long time favorite of mine. Mario Zanusso – the man dubbed “Italy’s sexiest winemaker” – had brought his father along for the fair this year, so finally I got a first hand look at where the good genes come from.
Tasting the 2015 vintage was confusing to be honest. When I tried them as tank samples last year they had been unfinished but promising. This year the wines (now in bottle) had a good acidity and applaudable length but they were so incredibly tight as to be almost clenched. The only wine that was showing was a shy but bright Verduzzo, which is quite strange since it is usually the most difficult wine to understand. The 2016 RBL Brut Natur Spumante however – a sparkling made from Ribolla – was at its strongest yet, with a distinct and enticing approach and a pleasant fruity aftertaste. I’m looking forward to re-tasting the vintage at VinItaly, because this was a real conundrum.
Domaine de Enfants is a winery that year after year makes me question their lack of presence in Norway. Like most producers certain wines shine brighter than others, but on the whole Domaine de Enfants make wines that are out of the ordinary. Wines that should – that deserve – to be noticed.
We started off with Le Jouet 2015 – a macabeu cuvée with admirable concentration and nerve. The Tabula Rasa 2015 was slightly herbaceous, in a softer style than the Le Jouet yet with a concentrated floral after kick and a stony finish. The 2013 vintage was on the other hand was waxed with ripe yellow fruit and an aroma of dried apples. A longer maceration time than the 2015 giving a tannic but pleasant mouthfeel. The 2011 however was a complete knock-out. Imagine drinking a lovely bottle of what you believe is a high quality Corton-Charlemagne only to be told that it actually hails from Roussillon and is a blend of Grenache gris, Grenache blanc, Carignan blanc and Macabeu .
That’s the 2011 Tabula Rasa in a nutshell.
As many producers Domaine de Enfants started out a bit heavy on the oak and have been reducing their use over the years. The use has also fluctuated wildly between different vintages, which makes comparison of for example the evolution of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah blend L’etoile a difficult task. The 2014 vintage exhibited a delightful spicy nose backed by a juicy mouthful of blueberries and ink while the 2009 was shock full with leather, game, hide and other secondary aromas. 2008 on the other hand had tamed the beasts and was showing an elegant and refined middle age…
Other wineries worth mentioning from the fair are Savoi-based Domaine Saint Germain and Le Cellier des Cray, as well as the new amphora wines from Azul y Garanza that are still in an experimental stage.
And what can one say about the fair in general? As always it was huge and difficult to navigate. The egalitarian idea of spreading the producers out along the hall so that wineries from the same area aren’t clumped together still annoys me. As a visitor/sommelier/importer I would much rather be able to navigate towards areas of interest. I know this is a way to ensure that less popular areas aren’t overlooked, the only problem is I still overlook them – and I’m a sucker for weird wines. I would love to able to head to the Savoie corner. Or to speed taste through all the Greek wineries. Or for that matter do all the Bordeaux negociants in one stride. But now I just zigzag thrue the fair looking for wineries that I want to re-taste or that I’ve noted down before the fair. Sometimes I saunter along looking for something to catch my eye. But I invariably – even as a professional – just end up going for the both where there isn’t a crowd/where the people look friendly and uneager/ where the labels are quaint. Without prior knowledge of the wineries and a tactical way to taste what else is there to do?